Category Archives: Five Stars

A Lone Wolf

A Lone Wolf by [Fields, J. C.]

A Lone Wolf by writer, J.C. Fields, follows its characters through a tense world of assassins, handlers, informants, and spies. The characters constantly have to look over their shoulders and think several steps ahead of those who would rather have them dead. We meet the characters when they are thrown into a situation that would have left them dead, had they not narrowly escaped a sniper’s bullets. They were set up. They were supposed to die in Barcelona. They escaped, albeit narrowly, and must find out who wants them dead and why.

The constant stress and danger the characters find themselves in builds drama and suspense across the chapters. I even found myself tensing up at some points. Their lives are scary, but exciting. Also interesting are the “ins” they seem to have across the world. They have people to help them change identities, acquire the most legitimate of illegitimate documentation, passports, licenses, etc. They have contacts in all sorts of networks and government agencies. There seems to be a lot of true scenarios mixed in with their fictional lives. It makes the reader wonder how many double agents there really are out there.

A part that really stuck with me and seemed ingenious was when Michael and Nadia faked their deaths in Mexico. It really makes you wonder how much of what we know about what goes on in the world is real, and how much is a façade. I’m certain popular news outlets only receive a fraction of any given story, especially stories involving people so deeply involved in circles that meshes government officials with hitmen.

I really empathized with how Nadia began to feel about living in Missouri. I could identify. It was the first place, likely in a very long time, that felt like home to her. To feel safe and autonomous couldn’t have been feelings that were familiar, but they were good. Everyone wants that. Even people in their line of work have a basic human need for safety, security, freedom, and belonging. Missouri quickly became a happy place that Nadia dreaded leaving. Her longing to stay seemed so familiar. Anyone can certainly identify with wanting to be in a place or leave a hard situation.

The book was well-written with little to no noticeable errors. Quick and intense, it was still a fairly easy read. The characters are well-developed, as usual, and the fast-paced and exciting plot flow smoothly. Fields’s writing style is on par with tv shows such as Scandal or Amazon’s Jack Ryan. Being a Scandal fan, I associated some of the characters with people I’d seen on the show. Beyond the normal Whitehouse business, there is a network of characters who are hired fixers, hitmen, and spies who work behind the scenes in conjunction with those who are the faces on television telling people what to believe. These characters reminded me a lot of them.

The characters and plot were intricately interesting. It was an exciting read with some edge-of-your-seat type scenarios.

Pages: 372 | ASIN: B07T9SDHY8

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Demon of the Black Gate

Demon of the Black Gate by [Scherzinger, GJ]

Rovinkar, the wizard, holds in his hands the key to instigating a war like no other. Cerra, a blind woman living alone in the meadows, knows only what she feels and hears. Their two worlds collide when power goes to Rovinkar’s head and he offers to destroy the Black Gate thereby beginning a string of devastating events. Rovinkar’s offer involves much more than just his expertise, detailed research, and a desire to prove his usefulness–it involves releasing a demon. When the best laid plans go awry, Cerra becomes involved in ways she could never have imagined, and her simple life in the meadows tending herbs will never be the same.

The Demon of the Black Gate, by G.J. Scherzinger, details the devious musings of the wizard Rovinkar and the strength of character shown by Cerra of the Meadows. The author’s two main characters could not be more different–Rovinkar dealing in what amounts to the dark arts and Cerra living her life by touch, sound, and smell. Cerra, a seemingly powerless woman, is the clear heroine in Scherzinger’s tale and stands far above all other characters including Rovinkar.

Fantasies of this type are known for being fraught with flowery language and bigger-than-life characters, but Scherzinger has found and given readers a wonderful balance between the typical fantasy and a down-to-earth read. From the first chapter, the author provides characters who relate to one another as people and in a way readers can appreciate. There is an abundance of friendly banter between characters at the outset of the book that draws readers immediately into the story-line.

Cerra must be the very definition of strength. The peek into her backstory serves to draw readers in and secure their investment in her connection to the plot. It is difficult to imagine another character without her physical limitations who is willing to take on the immense tasks she does. I appreciate the symbolism in Cerra’s position as a healer. Her position later in the story makes it quite clear that she is the epitome of rebuilding and reviving.

Equally as effective are the author’s fantastically fashioned descriptions of the wizard, Rovinkar. As he sets about plotting the release of the demon, one gets a clear picture of the wizard practically rubbing his hands in sheer delight–he is quite the character and one readers will love to hate.

Scherzinger’s fantasy is peppered with humorous and engaging lines that offer a welcome sense of levity within a plot that could otherwise become very dark and foreboding. It goes without saying that Scherzinger gives readers amazing visuals of the surrounding countryside  From cover to cover, readers are treated to beautiful descriptions and vivid details. I am much more interested in characters and their development from beginning to end than scenes of action, and Scherzinger does not disappoint in this arena.

Pages: 214 | ASIN: B07XC9B4QT

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From Miracle to Murder: Justice for Adam

From Miracle To Murder: Justice For Adam by [Lefler, Joyce A]

In May of 1977, Joyce gave birth to her second child, a son named Adam. Adam was a beam of light in an otherwise dark world surrounding Joyce and her daughter, Anne. Joyce was faced with the daunting task of raising a child with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome–a child she was told would never thrive and would require intense specialized care the rest of his short life. Joyce, a woman already trapped in an intensely abusive marriage, vowed to raise her son and his older sister together for as long as he may survive. In May of 1977, Joyce began a journey of new love with her two small children. In September of 1983, she was accused of Adam’s murder.

From Miracle to Murder: Justice for Adam is the true story of Joyce A. Lefler’s harrowing experience as a battered wife and a mother accused of murdering her young so told in her own words. From the first pages of Lefler’s story, it is painfully clear that Joyce is a fighter. The abuse she endured at the hands of her husband was nothing short of horrific. The author describes in vivid detail the moments of hair-pulling, his verbally abusive tirades, and the incidents of rape she endured as her children slept. Her husband, Allen, was a monster by all rights and possessed no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Several times while reading, I gasped audibly at the terrorizing scenes described by the author.

When accused of murdering her young son, Adam, Joyce faced obstacles at literally every turn. I cannot imagine losing one of my children and having the other ripped from my arms and turned against me. Joyce is a special person indeed. She is a survivor in every sense of the word.

The circumstances surrounding Adam’s death and the light shed on the many mistakes made during his murder investigation are overwhelming. She describes the most infuriating neglect on the part of the police department. All of these oversights led to one heartbreak in Joyce’s life after another. From having her husband awarded custody of her daughter to having trusted friends run the other way after her own arraignment, Joyce watched her life fall out from beneath her, but she somehow held her own.

It’s difficult to say this is a great book because it’s a tragic true story. I will say this–if your life has in any way been touched by abuse, this is a book you should read. By the same token, if you are the parent of a child with special needs, Joyce’s life story is one with which you should familiarize yourself. So much can be learned from her experience with her son and some of the medical professionals Joyce encountered in Adam’s first days. From her childhood to her marriage with her first husband to her painful existence looking back in fear of being accused again of her son’s death, Joyce describes for readers an incredibly difficult life of choices no one should have to make but everyone should read.

Pages: 309 | ASIN:  B07FMGGHTG

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Pigs

Pigs by [James, Daniel]

Pigs by Daniel James follows an ex-convict’s journey for vengeance. On the same night that he is released from prison, his wife and child are brutally murdered. Isaac Reid has to struggle with the guilt and desolation of losing his family. At the same time, he is confronted with an even more daunting challenge: a cold-blooded nemesis, the wearer of the wolf mask. We follow Isaac on his bloodthirsty path for revenge and root for him as he struggles against his internal demons.

This novel does not hold back on the bloody punches. The murders could be straight out of a Tarantino film, that’s how gruesome and well-portrayed they are. Violence and crime are treated in a matter-of-fact manner, which only serves to highlight their shock factor.

Although I am admittedly not an expert in matters regarding the criminal underworld, Daniel James manages to create a very real and believable world. Drug-abuse, petty crime, battery, theft, violence, all the terrifying aspects of a criminal life are explored here.

I think one of the reasons why this is possible is because the author is not afraid to dive deep into the characters’ psyches. The characters do not exist only in the dimension of their backstories and connections. Instead, their minds are explored and their motivations examined. Everyone from the protagonist and antagonist to the secondary characters receive this treatment. These examinations of their emotional and psychological beings made this a much more appealing read to me. I’ve always enjoyed deeply unsettling portrayals of psychosis and rage-consumed characters.

There were a few hitches in the form of clichéd and overdone violence scenes. Although they were well-written, they seemed to serve no purpose other than adding unnecessary thrill in an already action-filled book. However, it is a crime novel and I suppose that such depictions are an inbuilt evil of the same.

The book ends on a gloomy but hopeful note. Isaac commits just as many terrible and gruesome acts as his enemy, but somehow, via masterful navigation, Daniel James still had me rooting for him till the end. Pigs is an intense and gripping read. It will take you through a dark wormhole, at the end of which there is a sense of stability, but very little light.

Pages: 204 | ASIN: B07TTVMNCQ

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The Life and Times of Clyde Kennard

The Life and Times of Clyde Kennard by [King, Derek R.]

Many are remembered and revered for their contribution to the civil rights movement–some are more easily named than others. Clyde Kennard is one man among the countless individuals whose quiet contributions are often overlooked in history books, lectures, and museum descriptions of the most famous civil rights events of the 1950s. Clyde Kennard, a man with a right to an education in the United States, found himself in the throes of a battle to gain a college education in Mississippi while at the same time battling the oppressiveness of segregation, racism, and the fears of rural white America.

The Life and Times of Clyde Kennard, by Derek R. King, is the moving account of Clyde Kennard’s life and significant but virtually silent contribution to desegregate the South. King invites readers to absorb the details of Kennard’s life from his early days through his years serving in the United States Army. By establishing Kennard’s willingness to defend his country, King makes it clear to readers that Kennard is a man we should not slight in discussions of desegregation.

I am sure I am not the only reader surprised to hear of the part Kennard played in desegregating a southern college. King explains, in no uncertain terms, the exceptional number of obstacles placed in Clyde Kennard’s path as he attempted to apply and enroll in Mississippi Southern College near his own home in Mississippi. Authors like King are almost single handedly responsible for providing readers with otherwise hidden facts about heroes like Clyde Kennard and those who championed his cause.

In addition to telling Clyde Kennard’s own personal story of struggle, King includes details about the deaths of Reverend George Lee, Lamar Smith, and Emmett Till. While Emmett Till’s tragic story is one I had heard, I was completely unaware of the viciousness of his death and had no idea that his killers were so brazen as to later proudly admit their actions. These are the stories we all need to be told so history does not repeat itself. I, for one, am grateful to authors like King who continue to tell these stories.

Clyde Kennard was harassed and underwent one accusation after another as he fought to further his own education. I am horrified at the level of leading questions Clyde Kennard was asked by prosecutors when he was accused of robbery. Nowhere during his proceedings was he treated fairly. King has included the testimony within his story which makes the truth of Kennard’s battle that much more gripping.

It is and will forever be through books like Derek R. King’s that citizens of the United States see and feel the truth of where our country has been and the place we should all fear returning. Clyde Kennard’s story is one that should be told far and wide and given its rightful place alongside all other well-renowned heroes of the civil rights movement. Derek R. King has made a significant contribution to literature indeed.

Pages: 384 | ASIN: B07JPL1SBD

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It’s OK to be Different

In her children’s book, It’s OK to be Different, Sharon Purtill endeavors to teach her young audience an important lesson that all children – and adults – need to learn:  that although people may differ in the things they like, the way they live, and the way they look, everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect and kindness.

I think Purtill’s book has a great message and one that is especially important in a modern world that is connected globally like never before. By teaching children to be accepting of themselves and of others, Purtill challenges the need to fit into a stereotypical idea of “normal” while emphasizing that everyone is different in one way or another. The use of rhyming, simple examples, and colorful illustrations makes the book flow well and makes it one that is easy to read and is likely to appeal to Purtill’s young audience.

Although Purtill’s message is solid, I think she could jump to the issues that are likely to really matter, like differences in appearance, speech, or abilities/disabilities, earlier in the book. With that being said, the book has a great message for children, is easy and fun to read, and has delightful illustrations to capture the eyes and minds of its audience.

Pages: 30 | ISBN: 0973410442

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Honeycake: Help I Swallowed a Butterfly

Nala is nervous. In fact, she’s more than a little nervous. When she is asked to read in front of her elementary classroom, she feels a stirring from within. As her teacher explains that she has butterflies in her stomach, Nala begins to picture a literal tangle of butterflies she must have swallowed by accident, and her misunderstanding continues to blossom before she can arrive at home and be set straight by her mother. Honeycake: Help, I Swallowed a Butterfly, by Medea Kalantar, is a precious account of one little girl’s misunderstanding of the idiom, “butterflies in your stomach.”

From beginning to end, Kalantar takes young readers on a journey to understanding the ways this simple phrase can be literally defined and how it relates to nervousness and apprehension. Through young Nala’s conversation with her mother, readers hear the explanation of the idiom and are given breathing techniques for reducing nervousness as Nala’s mother helps her plan for the next time she is faced with anxiety. As an elementary teacher, I can see Honeycake: Help, I Swallowed a Butterfly being used a couple different ways. Figurative language is a huge part of our third grade curriculum, and this is the perfect piece of literature to use in introducing it to students. In addition, I can see Honeycake: Help, I Swallowed a Butterfly as an important tool in an elementary guidance program. The techniques for calming oneself are more than helpful for young students as they face the stresses of everyday life.

Medea Kalantar has succeeded in providing young readers with yet another touching story revolving around Nala and her loving family. The educational value of each of Kalantar’s Honeycake books is unrivaled. Kalantar carefully crafts her stories to touch readers of all walks of life and always includes valuable life lessons for both children and adults.

Pages: 32 | ISBN: 0228812089
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Blood On The Chesapeake

Blood on the Chesapeake (The Haunted Shores Mysteries) by [Overbeck, Randy]

Darrell Henshaw is the keeper of many secrets–most of which are not entirely his own. When he decides to make a change and accept a job in a new school, he fully expects to leave all of his ghosts behind–literally. Entering this new school and beginning the season as the coach of Wilshire, Maryland’s high school football team, should be an exciting time for Darrell, but his past and present are now blurring together. He finds himself in the throes of researching the decades old story of a suicide that took place at the school. In addition, Darrell finds himself dredging up memories that might better be left alone.

Randy Overbeck’s Blood on the Chesapeake follows main character, Darrell Henshaw, on an epic journey of historic proportions as he tackles racial injustice and attempts to correctly label a suicide as a murder. With pertinent mentions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, Overbeck has crafted a murder mystery for the ages that encourages readers to investigate their own feelings regarding social injustices.

Overbeck could not have taken a more perfect route than the diary he opted to have Darrell find and peruse. Kelly’s diary is not only the most telling sign that Hank was murdered, it is also an amazing glimpse into life in the 60s and a sure sign that desegregation was, in many areas of the US, as violently protested as it ever was decades prior. The readings of the diary by Darrell and Erin, his love interest, make the book. I could almost smell the mildewed pages, and I felt the characters’ frustration as they battled through the diary’s pages to piece together the mystery that is Kelly and Hank’s fates.

Overbeck’s pace is spot on and makes for a thoroughly engaging and quick read. With no excessive filler material, the author moves seamlessly from one tragic event and clue to the next.  Overbeck makes readers yearn for closure.

One of the most amazing aspects of Overbeck’s work is the way in which he conveys the characters’ feelings toward racism. Blood on the Chesapeake is not a book to be enjoyed; it is a book to appreciate for the reminders it provides readers. With mentions of lynchings and the KKK leading up to the setting of this book, and Overbeck gives readers a clear look at the way racism and bigotry continued to leak far beyond the bounds of the deep South even after desegregation began to make its way across the US.

Though the book is clearly focused on events from the 60s via Kelly’s diary, the plot is timely considering the state of today’s world. Readers will find themselves quickly caught up in Darrell’s descriptions of his ghostly encounters and eagerly awaiting each and every clue.

Pages: 296 | ASIN: B07N3BZBPR

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Confessions of Eden

Confessions of Eden: A Riveting Spy Thriller (Michelle Reagan Book 1) by [Shinberg, Scott]

Michelle Reagan, alias Eden, is a CIA covert operator who conducts secret missions all over the world, and does what only a few can: take away someone’s life without getting caught. But having an undercover profession like this is not easy. Michelle works hard to be successful and gain the recognition of her boss and colleagues while trying to maintain a personal life and relationship. Every day, Michelle has to live with a burden, the moral consequences of killing innocent people. But can she handle it without going insane? And can she succeed and stay alive in this dangerous, male-dominated career?

The Confessions of Eden by Scott Shinberg is by far the best espionage thriller I have read this year: rich in action, danger, and unexpected turns. The plot is made up of Michelle’s reminiscences. This novel serves as her memoir in which she tells her story. The missions mentioned in the book are gripping and adventurous and filled with dangerous events. I liked the way the short stories and the descriptions of the missions came after each other and, despite the time gaps, there was no break in the story line, everything just falls into place to create a bigger story.

Michelle Reagan is an ambitious, hard-working agent, or assassin, who grows more confident as the story progresses. At first, she suffers from the psychological consequences of killing someone whose only fault is to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, but then, as her character develops and transforms from Michelle into Eden, she learns how to handle it. Her boss Michael and her two colleagues play an important role in Michelle’s life, and I appreciated how they supported her character development and I felt like they bring out another dimension to her character which really rounds her out. Because Michelle’s private life is built upon lies, she has difficulties finding and keeping a partner without getting exposed. This contrast between personal and private lives is something that I found intriguing and well balanced in this book.

Scott Shinberg is a talented author who can make you feel like you are in the middle of a CIA office with undercover agents. He catches the reader’s attention with the very first sentence and holds it right to the end. I look forward to reading the next Michelle Reagan novel.

Pages: 333 | ASIN:  B07PTPHTXS

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The Farthest-Reaching Ball: A Memoir of Motherhood

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The Farthest-Reaching Ball A Memoir of Motherhood by Sandra Bowman is definitely a unique read. The book starts with an Author’s Note explaining that the author has a daughter and that this daughter has always been her daughter. When I first read that sentence I wondered if maybe the author had adopted her daughter and that’s why she had declared that, but in fact, it turns out that her daughter is transgender which made it an intriguing read. In the story, you follow the life of Sandra and her son Grant with husband, Robert, and youngest son, Parker, almost being side characters. Grant realizes at a young age that he feels as though he is a female, but he is unsure of how to open up to anyone for fear of rejection.

Throughout the story, he is an intelligent man that everyone loves but he goes through some very dark times hiding away from the world, wanting to be left alone, dropping his grades despite his intelligence, dropping out of college multiple times as well as other situations all because he is afraid of rejection. He is afraid of coming out and people rejecting him, hating him, taunting him. He’s on medication for depression, later he’s diagnosed as bipolar, he skips therapy and doctor’s appointments multiple times. He’s one huge depressed messed. It takes years for Grant to finally come out and admit that he is a female and that his name is Grace.

I had mixed feelings towards this story because I try very hard to not judge parents since I’m a parent myself, but I found it hard to not judge Sandra for almost forgetting that she had a second son because she was so focused on Grant and his issues. I felt bad for Parker throughout the story and wanted to adopt him. I was so glad when Parker finally opens up about feeling neglected and I am happy that eventually the family is able to find happiness and become a whole again. I love that Parker accepted Grace for who she is even though she was the cause of him being neglected throughout his childhood and young adult life. I felt bad for Sandra for everything that she was going through, I could feel her emotions as she battled her own depression, I could feel her relief when she finally knew what the problem was with her daughter and I could feel her happiness when her family became whole again. I think Sandra did a really great job conveying the emotions in the story.

This is an exceptional memoir, the only thing that I didn’t like was that the timeline jumps around a bit, Grant is young and then in the next scene he’s an adult and then the next scene he’s young again. This happens a few times but isn’t really a huge problem, to be honest, it’s just the one thing that I think could have made the book a little easier to follow.

I liked how Sandra’s story helped me see what it’s like for transgenders growing up, what they go through during the transformation, the process of creating their new identity and being on hormones. I hope that this story helps to soften the heart of those that have problems with transgender people.

Pages: 234

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